[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: Placerita Mascot: The Great Horned Owl | 08-29-2013
Santa Clarita CA
Today in
S.C.V. History
August 23
1963 - First stretch of Antelope Valley 14 Freeway opens from east of Solemint Junction in Canyon Country to Red Rover Mine Road in Acton. [story]

Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Aug 29, 2013

evelynevandersande_mugWhy did we choose the great horned owl as our logo for the Placerita Canyon Nature Center? Owl Junior, who quickly became OJ, was our resident owl for 29 years. He was a beautiful bird that everybody admired, but he was cranky with people who fed the snakes in front of him and did not let them handle him.

OJ was quiet for many years, but out of the blue, one day he figured how to hoot – and he kept on going with gusto until the end of his life.

When he died, we were all shocked and upset, but by looking at our logo, his presence will always remain with us.

The great horned owl is a bird of prey that commands respect.

The most striking feature of the great horned owl is its eyes: large and yellow, often staring at you, and placed in a facial disk that also helps to bring more sound to the ear openings.

The late Owl Junior, aka OJ. Photo: Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates.

Photo: Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates.

Great horned owls have perfect auditory anatomy to help them hunt. The ear openings are on each side of the facial disk; this dish directs all of the sounds to the ears. The placement of the ears is asymmetric: The right ear is set higher up in the skull, and the left one is lower. By tilting its head, the owl can tell exactly the location of prey simply by sound. Experiments have been done in a totally dark room, and the great horned owl was able to catch a mouse even in that absolute darkness.

Great “horned” owl? Does it have horns? It has tuft of feathers on its head that moves up or down according to the owl’s mood. They are not horns, or even ears, but they give the great horned its distinctive appearance and a certain panache.

Let’s go back to their eyes. Owls have binocular vision, allowing them to pinpoint prey and see in very low light. The eyes are almost as large as human eyes, but they cannot move left and right. They are fixed in its head.

Would that be a problem if you tried to hunt? A human neck has seven vertebrae, and this is why we can turn our head just over our shoulder and no further. The owl has 14 vertebrae, so it can turn its head further to see what is at its back. We would have to turn our body around to be able to do that.

Whoooo you lookin' at?

Whoooo you lookin’ at?

Many kids ask, “Can it turn its head all the way around?” No, but it can turn its head a long way to the left, then it can turn its head around to the right. With those two motions, it has seen all the way around.

On the other hand, the great own horned owl has a poor sense of smell, like most birds. This is beneficial if you want to eat something that doesn’t smell so nice, like a skunk –  which they do without the slightest discomfort. They are actually the only regular predator of skunks; most other animals choose to stay away.

They are ferocious hunters and can easily kill prey two to three times heavier than they are. In addition to birds that they catch sleeping, and small mammals that come out at night, they can catch squirrels, chicken, fish, rabbits and even cats and small dogs.

If the prey is large, the owl will start eating it on the ground, but smaller prey is killed while taking off, and then swallowed whole. Its talons have 300 pounds of pressure per square inch (PSI), so no prey can escape. It has four toes on each foot and can rotate two toes to the front and two toward the back, which is a perfect position for squeezing a prey to death.

owl1How does it hunt at night? The great horned owl has a wing span of four feet, and its wings have stiff feathers. Even the feet are covered with feathers, so they fly without making a sound.

It is always special to demonstrate this phenomenon at the Nature Center when we make the owl presentation. We ask the audience to be quiet, and we move our hand up and down so the owl perched on it has to move it wings to keep balanced. Not a sound can be heard, and that invariably astonishes the audience.

An owl hunts at night by observing from a concealed perch. It dives down on the prey, talons extended, and often with wings folded. The small prey is swallowed whole, and six to eight hours later, the owl will regurgitate a pellet with all of the parts that could not be digested, like bones and fur. It is always an interesting science project to dissect an owl pellet to find out what the owl diet was on a particular day.

Great horned owls mate for life, but they stay together only during the breeding season. They need a territory of about 2.5 acres, and they breed early in the year. Because they do their hunting at night, it is appropriate that they take advantage of the longest nights of the winter when they can hunt for an extended period of time. They breed in January and February, but they call for a mate in the fall and make a decision by December.

During courtship, the male will puff up and hoot loudly. The female will hoot back, and they rub beaks and preen each other. They do not build their own nests but take over the nest of a large bird such as a raven or hawk. Sometimes they use a cavity in a tree or an empty building.

Females will lay one to five eggs, and the incubation lasts about 33 days. The female is in charge of incubation and is fed by the male. When the babies are two weeks old, they are fed by both parents.

owl2The babies are curious and adventurous and start to check out the nearby branches when they are six weeks old, but they are not good flyers until they are 12 weeks old. They stay close to their parents even until the following October, when the parents are thinking about starting the new clutch. Parents’ jobs never stop, I guess, even among birds.

For years, the great horned owl was considered a threat to small domestic fowl, and bounties were paid for a dead owl. Education has changed this sad perception. Public opinion has shifted; we have learned they keep the rodent population under control and play an important role in our environment. Trapping or hunting owls is now illegal.

The eggs, nestlings and fledglings can be eaten by coyotes or cats, but the adults have almost no predators, and the population remains stable.

October will be here soon, and with it, the beginning of the courtship season. I hope that while you’re lying in your bed in the quiet of the night, you can hear the hooting in a nearby tree. It is comforting to know wildlife is so close by, even if the great horned owl is well hidden and difficult to see in the dark shadows.


Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 27 years. She lives in Newhall.

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.


You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment

Opinion Section Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
Related Content
Tuesday, Aug 15, 2017
If left uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to some really bad outcomes, including kidney problems, glaucoma and other eye disorders, foot ulcers, amputation of feet or legs, stroke, diabetic coma, and even death.
Friday, Aug 11, 2017
There is no doubt the vast majority of Democrats and liberals loathe Trump. Certainly all of the leftists thoroughly hate him, and they have some company. They’re called Republicans.
Wednesday, Aug 2, 2017
In his August message to the community, Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Striplin details the city's emergency preparedness resources.
Tuesday, Aug 1, 2017
As our first president George Washington said, “We must consult our means rather than our wishes.”
Sunday, Jul 30, 2017
Many shocking surprises have shown up around the world as the ice melts. We’ve found a perfectly preserved baby woolly mammoth, a field of dead reindeer that died of anthrax, and then last year, infected people in Russia, and in Alaska, an Air Force plane that disappeared was finally found in the Colony Glacier. It had crashed in 1952, killing everyone on board.
Wednesday, Jul 26, 2017
When President Donald Trump ordered Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review the status of 27 national monuments created by three former presidents, many across the nation took it as a call to action to advocate on behalf of the monuments closest to their homes, and their hearts.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
Today on NewsBreak, a COC student has been arrested and charged with rape. The SCV Sheriff’s Station’s Crime Impact Team and Special Assignment Team conducted a joint bicycle patrol in Canyon Country and Newhall Tuesday evening.
SCV NewsBreak for Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Efforts to illuminate “dark money” in politics took a step forward Wednesday, as California lawmakers brokered a deal to move a disclosure bill to the state Senate next week.
‘Dark Money’ Bill Moves to California Senate
The school year is about to commence at California State University, Northridge. Saturday classes will start on Aug. 26. and weekday classes will begin on Aug. 28.
CSUN Fall 2017 Classes Start Saturday
Zonta Club of SCV's September 'LifeForward' workshop for women, focusing on how to better deal with conflict and anger issues, is set for the Savia Community Center in Newhall on Saturday, September 16 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
September 16: Zonta Conflict, Anger Workshop
Six Flags Entertainment today announced its Southern California flagship property, Six Flags Magic Mountain, will be open 365 days a year starting January 1, 2018.
Six Flags Magic Mountain Goes Year-Round in January
The Ekata Training Center in Valencia will host a Fitness Fun Day and open house on Saturday, September 16 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
September 16: Ekata Training Center Fitness Fun Day
Air quality will be unhealthy for sensitive individuals in the Santa Clarita Valley on Thursday, the AQMD warns.
Bad Air Rising in SCV Thursday
A five-week project to install a reinforced concrete box storm drain under Railroad Avenue in Newhall to improve drainage in the area will start Monday, August 28.
Railroad Ave. Storm Drain Project Begins August 28
Nine cancer survivors and their physicians will take the field at Dodger Stadium on Saturday evening to kick off City of Hope’s ThinkCure! Weekend.
Dodger Fans Help Strike Out Cancer This ‘Think Cure’ Weekend
Deputy Natalie Hidalgo is the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff Station's newly appointed school resource officer for Golden Valley High School, Sierra Vista Junior High School and Sequoia School.
Natalie Hidalgo New School Resource Deputy in Canyon Country
Starting Tuesday, Aug. 29, College of the Canyons students can leave their brown-bag lunches at home on Tuesdays because COC's Institute for Culinary Education (aka iCuE) Café will resume its weekly lunch service.
August 29: COC’s ‘iCuE’ Lunch Service Resumes
College of the Canyons has launched the Resources for Individual Success in Education program, dubbed RISE, to help improve access to higher education for current and former foster or homeless youth.
COC Launches RISE Program to Aid Foster, Homeless Youth
International contemporary art gallery Hauser & Wirth launched an exchange program for post-MFA students from CalArts and the Bath School of Art and Design, Bath Spa University in the UK.
Hauser & Wirth’s Artist Residency Exchange at CalArts and Bath School
Artists and CalArts alumni Kenyatta A. C. Hinkle (Art, Critical Studies MFA 12) and Scott Benzel (Art MFA 01) will take part in The Getty’s 'Friday Flights' on Friday, August 25 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
August 25: CalArtians to Perform at The Getty’s ‘Friday Flights’
Another COC student has been arrested and charged with rape in an accusation unrelated to an on-campus assault reported Monday, this time for an alleged sexual assault that took place off-campus in June.
Another COC Student Charged in Alleged Sexual Assault
California's Assembly Appropriations Committee plans to review the Santa Clarita Valley Water District bill, SB 634, on September 1, Assembly officials said Wednesday.
Assembly to Review SCV Water District Legislation
The city of Los Angeles filed a lawsuit Tuesday to intervene in California and San Francisco’s actions against the Justice Department’s new conditions on sanctuary cities.
L.A. Joins Sanctuary Cities’ Fight Against Justice Department
The SCV Sheriff's Station's Crime Impact Team and Special Assignment Team conducted a joint bicycle patrol in Canyon Country and Newhall Tuesday evening, and arrested four people on drug charges.
SCV Deputies’ Bicycle Patrol Nets 4 Arrests for Drugs
The 21st annual "Heart of the West" fundraiser for the non-profit Carousel Ranch horse therapy program for children will take place at the ranch on Saturday, August 26 starting at 6 p.m.
August 26: ‘Heart of the West’ to Benefit Carousel Ranch
Beatles tribute band The Sun Kings headline the final show in the 2017 Concerts in the Park series on Saturday, August 26, starting at 7 p.m.
August 26: Sun Kings Beatles Tribute Band at Central Park
Garrett Hampson delivered four hits and the Lancaster JetHawks held off a late rally by the Inland Empire 66ers in a 9-8 victory on Tuesday night at The Hangar, the JetHawks' fifth win in a row.
Hampson’s 4 Hits Propel JetHawks Over 66ers
The California League has named three Lancaster JetHawks as Postseason All-Stars -- Garrett Hampson, Yonathan Daza and Wes Rogers.
Three JetHawks Earn Post-Season All-Star Nods
The Santa Clarita City Council recognized the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff Station's two Employees of the Month, Deputy Bob Garcia and Custody Assistant Manny Ramirez, at the Council's meeting Tuesday night.
City Council Honors SCV Sheriff’s Station Employees of the Month
1963 - First stretch of Antelope Valley 14 Freeway opens from east of Solemint Junction in Canyon Country to Red Rover Mine Road in Acton. [story]
With funding from Measure H, Los Angeles County and its cities are teaming up to quickly place thousands of homeless people into permanent housing that comes with the supportive services, rental subsidies and other assistance needed to thrive.
Permanent, Supportive Housing for Homeless Thanks to Measure H
A Domestic Violence Center, Senior Center and homeless shelter partnership is looking for solutions to the countywide homelessness crisis in Santa Clarita.
Three Local Non-Profits Look to Tackle Housing Crisis
The Gibbons Conservation Center is holding a Back to School special. Buy your 2018 membership today and get the rest of 2017 free.
Gibbons Conservation Center Holding Back-to-School Special
Tonight on SCV NewsBreak, CHP is investigating a fatal collision that happened early Tuesday morning near Castaic. Plus, photographers can get ready to submit their Santa Clarita-centric photos for the Fall 2017 Photo Contest. Watch these stories and more on tonight's edition of SCV NewsBreak.
SCV NewsBreak for Tuesday, August 22, 2017
WiSH Foundation Executive Director Amy Daniels is about climb for education.
WiSH Foundation’s E.D. to Climb Kilimanjaro for Public Education
Registration for the Fall session is now open.
Lil’ Kickers Fall Registration Underway
The CSUN Art Galleries are pleased to present part two of an exhibition featuring artwork made by full and part-time faculty in the Department of Art. More than thirty artists showcase current bodies of work, using a variety of materials and processes.
CSUN Faculty Artwork on Display in “Full and Part (Two)” Exhibit
Here are the upcoming times and dates for the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce Emerging Leaders Series:
Chamber’s Emerging Leaders Series Resumes Wednesday
Mayor Cameron Smyth, Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste and Councilmembers Bill Miranda, Marsha McLean and Bob Kellar cordially invite you to party like it’s 1987 at the 2017 State of the City Luncheon to be held on Thursday, October 26, 2017 at 11:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Valencia.
Oct. 26: State of the City 30th Anniversary Luncheon
Join The Painted Turtle on October 14, 2017 for the 8th annual bike ride and 2nd annual walk/run/roll to benefit the non-profit.
Oct. 14: Tour de Turtle, Turtle Trek Bike Ride
Here is a round-up of Santa Clarita arts-related events for Aug. 25-26th.
Aug. 25-26: Santa Clarita Arts Calendar
The 2017 CIF Southern Section Football Pre-Season Rankings have been released and a local team finds itself at the top of its division.
CIF Pre-Season Rankings List Saugus Football No. 1 in Division